US detective confirms UK scientist shot in the head was hit by bullet

US detective confirms UK scientist shot in the head was hit by bullet

01/22/2022

US detective confirms British scientist, 31, shot in the head in Atlanta was hit by a bullet fired 300ft away as cops probe homicide – but NO suspects have been found yet

  • US detectives confirm British scientist shot in the head while visiting his girlfriend was hit by a stray bullet 
  • Police said Dr Matthew Willson, 31, was killed by a shot fired less than 300ft away in Atlanta, Georgia
  • The astrophysicist, from Surrey, arrived in America to stay with partner Katherine Shephard two days earlier 
  • No arrests have been made yet but police are continuing to treat the death as a homicide, officers added 

US detectives have confirmed a young British scientist who was shot in the head while visiting his California-born girlfriend was hit by a stray bullet fired less than 300ft away.

Dr Matthew Willson, 31, was killed by a shot fired nearby early on Sunday morning — moments after being woken by the sound of ‘rapid gunfire’ as he slept alongside his 26-year-old partner Katherine Shephard in Atlanta, Georgia.

The astrophysicist, from leafy Chertsey in Surrey, had arrived in America to stay with Miss Shephard just two days before he died in an apartment block in Clairmont Road, Buford Highway.

US detectives are investigating as a homicide, but detectives said Dr Willson was not a target. Sergeant Jake Kissel from the Brookhaven Police Department said the fatal shooting appeared to be the result of ‘reckless discharge’ by random people.

Speaking to media, Sgt Kissel said no arrests have been made so far, adding: ‘Our investigation team is treating it as a homicide, even though we believe that it was a random act and complete reckless discharging of firearms, we’re still approaching it as a homicide.

‘I think that’s the best way for us to approach it because that’s what we’re used to and we’re capable of tracking down and viewing the evidence and making sure that we’re getting all of those steps and the puzzle pieces put back together, so we are approaching it as a homicide until the evidence dictates something different.’

Sgt Kissel said the stray bullet that hit Dr Willson travelled less than 300ft and entered through an exterior wall of the apartment. 

Devoted: This is the last picture taken of Matthew Willson with his girlfriend Katherine Shepard after he flew to America to see her. The 31-year-old was hit in the head by a shot fired from around 780ft away – moments after being woken by the sound of ‘rapid gunfire’ as he slept alongside Miss Shepard

Devastated Miss Shepard told the Daily Mail of the moment she realised he had been hit after hearing up to 50 shots outside the building. ‘I was kneeling on my bed looking out of the window to see if I could see anything. I felt the bed move – Matt was possibly getting up – and there was a tiny explosion in our room,’ she said. (Above, the apartment block where the couple were sleeping)

‘The two apartment complexes where the gunfire took place and where Matthew was staying, they’re separated by a patch of woods, so they back up to each other,’ the officer said.

‘We’re saying it’s the reckless discharge of firearms from one apartment complex and the stray bullet travelled through the woods and entered his apartment. We are following up on all leads that we’re receiving. We’re receiving tips from the public and our investigator team has been working around the clock to ensure that we’re tracking down the individuals that are responsible.’

Talking about the incident, the officer added: ‘It’s the first of its kind in my knowledge to the city of Brookhaven where an innocent bystander is struck and killed by a stray bullet.

‘For me and my 15-year law enforcement career, this is the first time that I’ve ever dealt with this type of situation. It’s definitely something that’s alarming. It’s a tragic event. It’s very shocking to hear and try and piece together how it actually happened. It’s something that’s been… it’s a very tall task.’

He also insisted the area is generally safe, adding: ‘Brookhaven in general is a safe area. We don’t typically deal with a whole lot of gun violence as far as deaths go.

‘So generally it’s a safe area. The Buford Highway and Clairmont Road corridor where the incident took place is one of the more heavily populated areas, so I think that’s what we’re up against and why we’re seeing this type of crime occur where it did.’

Dr Willson’s alma mater, the University of Exeter, has now paid tribute to the English scientist. A spokesman for the university said in a statement: ‘Matthew Willson was a former PhD student at the University of Exeter and much-loved member of our astrophysics team.

‘We have been informed about his tragic death in the US and our hearts go out to his family, friends and colleagues. We are offering support to colleagues at the University who will also want to commemorate his life.’

Stefan Kraus, professor of astrophysics at Exeter, described Dr Willson as a ‘passionate observational astronomer’ and said his research had contributed to the understanding of how planets formed.

‘I knelt on the bed holding a towel to his head and talking to him and shaking him whenever he started closing his eyes,’ Miss Shepard said. Dr Willson was rushed to hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning but he was pronounced dead on Tuesday


Dr Willson, 31, had been staying with relatives in a flat in a suburb of Atlanta in Georgia

Devastated Miss Shepard told the Mail of the moment she realised he had been hit after hearing up to 50 shots outside the building.

‘I was kneeling on my bed looking out of the window to see if I could see anything,’ she said.

‘I felt the bed move – Matt was possibly getting up – and there was a tiny explosion in our room. Then I heard Matt’s breathing change and I asked if he was OK.’

She said it was when he started to slump over that she turned on the light: ‘I saw he’d been shot in the head and screamed.’

As her flatmate called the emergency services, Miss Shepard tried to administer first aid. When an ambulance arrived 20 minutes later, shots were still ringing out from an area near a car park.

‘I knelt on the bed holding a towel to his head and talking to him and shaking him whenever he started closing his eyes,’ Miss Shepard said.

‘He looked like he was looking at me but he wasn’t talking at all and he was struggling to breathe and would occasionally start shaking. I just felt panic.’

Dr Willson was rushed to hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning but he was pronounced dead on Tuesday.

His devastated sister Kate, 28, who flew to Atlanta from her home in Sweden to be by his hospital bedside, last night said: ‘We want justice for Matthew. We have been robbed of him because someone was playing around with a gun, there is no logic to it.

‘It is such a senseless act and that has taken Matthew away from us.

‘He had so much to give and he wanted a family and to settle down and all of that with Katherine who is part of our family.’

Paying tribute to her brother, she added: ‘He was such a wise and joyful person, such a beautiful soul. He was a real light in the world. I got here on the Monday and got to say goodbye.

‘He was already gone but I got to say goodbye to his physical presence in this world.’

The couple had been excited about reuniting after being separated since last summer – and had planned to spend three months together in the US.

Miss Willson said her parents were ‘broken’, adding: ‘They can’t even comprehend that this happened to their beautiful son.’

Miss Shepard’s flatmate Aman Kar said he heard around 30 shots being fired intermittently in the space of 20 minutes.

He added: ‘I heard Katherine screaming and I went into her room.

‘She’d been looking out of the window and kept saying, “Matt’s been shot! Matt’s been shot!”‘

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